'It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.' Kenneth Clarke's journey from No 11 Downing Street to the House of Commons with his famous red bag later this month may not be by tumbril, but hopefully his sentiments will be similar to those of Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities.
The Chancellor is caught between a rock and a hard place in framing his budget. The Conservative party and most of the media believe that the Government's last hope of re-election lies in a give-away that will somehow increase its popularity; the economy, laden with a burgeoning public sector borrowing requirement, denies such a course to the Chancellor.
From where Gordon Brown is sitting, the view could hardly be rosier. A profligate budget will provide the Opposition with a glorious opportunity to present itself as the party of fiscal responsibility and to accuse the Government of pursuing a scorched earth economic policy, safe in the knowledge that it is unre-electable. A prudent budget will be viewed by Conservative back-benchers as hara-kiri; it will also leave an incoming Labour administration with a solid economic platform, flush with sources of funds for its proposed investment in the UK's infrastructure. If the Chancellor seeks to steer a middle course, it is likely to be perceived as the worst of both worlds rather than a canny compromise.
Given that all his options are unpalatable, the Chancellor may as well pursue the policies best suited to the UK economy, irrespective of political considerations. Through both luck and judgement, he has presided over a recovery driven by exports and focused on tough control over inflation. A tight budget which retains this focus is what is needed. The Chancellor should be applauded if he has the courage to follow this noble course.
What chance mutual respect? Deriving pleasure from the discomfort of others is possibly the most ignoble emotion. Yet many will enjoy witnessing the current problems facing employers which Simon Caulkin has identified in The New Avengers (p48). After years of having the terms of their employment, or non-employment, dictated to them by the corporation, managers are relishing the opportunity to turn the tables and dictate their own terms.
The nature of the employment contract has been changed for good - gone are the days when the relationship between employer and employee was based on that of parent and child. But the new deal, which views both parties as consenting adults, has a worrying flipside. True, both parties may be adults, but if these adults view life as a jungle, then childish antagonism rather than mature co-operation may result. To avoid this antagonistic downward spiral, both parties need to focus on the respect that each needs.
Those organisations which respect the qualities and needs of their workforce are those which will find their own qualities and needs respected.